What will keep Gainesville-to-Miami flights viable?
Published: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 6:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 6:20 p.m.
Will airline service between Gainesville and South Florida fly this time?
It should, according to dignitaries who spoke at a ceremony welcoming American Eagle Airlines' to Gainesville during a ceremony at Gainesville Regional Airport on Thursday.
The regional carrier for American Airlines announced Monday that it will offer two round-trip flights daily between Gainesville and Miami starting Oct. 1, with one-stop links to 50 other U.S. cities and 63 international destinations, including several major European centers and dozens of cities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The flights start at $81 one way.
Guest speakers on Thursday said many people drive from Gainesville to Miami on a regular basis.
That includes thousands of University of Florida students from South Florida who head home on weekends and especially holidays, said Eric Godet, chairman of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Godet, who travels for business to Miami and the Caribbean, said he expects to make the flight regularly. He now flies from Gainesville to Atlanta and then back south.
"It's amazing how many people you see in Atlanta headed south, so there had to be a better way," he said.
Speakers also referred to excitement for the service in surrounding communities such as Ocala and Lake City.
But the most hopeful tone was sounded by a guest in the audience who owns a travel agency.
Bob Todd of World Class Travel, also a former airport authority board member, predicted that flights to Miami will be full of people connecting to points beyond Miami and American will add two more daily flights soon.
He pointed out that Continental, which pulled out of Gainesville two years ago, did not have American's network of connections beyond Miami, so continuous connections on American will cost less and be more convenient.
"Nine out of 10 people on the plane wouldn't be final destination Miami," Todd said.
Frequent flier Jeff Burdge said he expects to use American regularly as a sales specialist for implant maker Exactech, which does business in more than 35 countries. He said he racks up more than 125,000 miles a year.
Todd also predicted that American will eventually add a flight to Dallas, as it did in Tallahassee.
But first things first. The airline's growth will depend on community support, said Jeff Wood, American's Jacksonville station manager, who was on hand for the ceremony.
He said American's chances will be helped by using 64-seat Super ATR turboprop aircraft, which are owned outright by the airline and so carry no debt. That is the plane previously used by Delta for flights to Atlanta before they were replaced by jets.
Turboprops are also more fuel-efficient than jets.
The French-built planes are 17 years old, but Wood said they are very reliable.
Airport authority CEO Allan Penksa said they are trying to help American get established here by waiving rent and landing fees of about $136,000 total over two years and $25,000 in marketing help.
The airline will still share costs of terminal space based on the number of flights and generate rental car and parking revenues for the airport.
"Hopefully all these things will be a net benefit," Penksa said.
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